Top 7 Vocal Performances – Faith No More

Faith No More were five years ahead of the curve for most of their career. But how do we describe their music? Avant-garde metal? Art school metal? Heavy post-punk? Funk metal? The consensus these days credits them with inventing alternative metal, which is hard to define but makes sense for a band that predated nu metal by half a decade.

It’s safe to say that Faith No More’s melting point approach to music is baffling yet always coherent. Starting as a Killing Joke-inspired band with pop influences and a burgeoning kinship with Metallica, the group achieved minor commercial success in the UK underground in 1987 with their Introduce Yourself album before firing their original vocalist, Chuck Moseley. A year later, a teenager from Eureka, California took the gig with great reservations and little idea that he’d become an international rock star in the space of twelve months. At the end of 1990, The Real Thing achieved double platinum sales, and Faith No More found themselves profiled in Rolling Stone magazine and on bedroom posters throughout Europe, Australia, and the American continent. For Mike Patton, it was a whirlwind ride that he navigated on his own terms and with a fierce determination to remain a private person. Some critics now view The Real Thing as a prog metal album, but its unorthodox thrash metal leanings, disturbing lyrics, slap bass beats, and ironic pop posturing leave it in a category of its own.

Returning in 1992 with an LP that Entertainment Weekly called “the most uncommercial follow up to a hit record ever”, the band ignored the clamour for The Real Thing, Part II and delivered a masterpiece of avant-garde metal. To this day, Angel Dust is probably the most extreme album to reach number two in the UK charts, with its lead single, ‘Midlife Crisis,’ mixing death metal, dub, and disco to great effect. Indeed, many of its songs land somewhere between Tom Waits and Obituary with grunting bass lines and complex grooves laying the groundwork for Patton to explore multiple personalities of voice from crooning tunesmith to red neck voyeur to psychopathic screamer.

Though their fanbase plateaued in America at the release of 1995’s King for a Day… Fool for a Lifetime, it ballooned in Europe and South America, by which time they were already an established and influential metal band. This record also showed the group reinventing themselves once again as an experimental metallic hardcore act at ease with the shadow of grunge and unconcerned with trends in the mainstream. It’s the last great record in the Faith No More canon before they imploded after 1997’s underappreciated Album of the Year.

An overdue reformation in 2009 for a summer of festival headline slots paved the way for a comeback in 2015. Sol Invictus would have been a contemporary classic if it included at least two more songs to boost the total running time, but it marked a great achievement for a band with a rabid fanbase and a stupendous legacy to honour. Now lauded as a God-tier rock quintet with a sound of their own and an influence that stretches from metalcore through to groove metal, mathcore, and prog, the LA mavericks can take their place among the greats of heavy music.

Yet Faith No More have only seven records in their discography since performing under this name for the first time in 1983. A pick of their top seven singles or album tracks is not challenging enough for Scream Blast Repeat, so we settled on something different – we explored the band’s catalogue to unearth the seven greatest vocal moments on record. All tracks from their studio recordings are candidates, and so are their efforts from official live albums. Of course, we could choose seven songs from Angel Dust, but we want to include as many records as possible.

Watch our YouTube video below for the best experience of this content. These are the Scream Blast Repeat Top 7 Vocal Performances of Faith No More…

7. ‘Surprise! You’re Dead’ from The Real Thing (1989)

When Faith No More focus their energies on a specific genre, they do it like professors. Track number four from 1989’s The Real Thing is the fastest and purest thrash metal song in their repertoire, but it still bears their unique imprint – loud basslines, subtle off-beats, dramatic guitars. Yet its originality comes from the microphone of Mike Patton, who approaches this as an invitation to demonstrate a wide variety of personalities. We also forget that Faith No More were not scared to rap their way through a verse in this era. Have you heard anything as clear-cut and as fast as Patton’s opening stanza before he switches to a hardcore threat in the bridge and accents the end of each bar with a grisly death metal projection?

Blink and you’ve missed the rapid-fire delivery of the chorus. But listen to the confident oscillation of range in Patton’s lungs, and you’ll soon marvel at his sharp enunciation over the vicious rhythms. “It’s not over yet / You don’t remember, I won’t let you forget,” he snarls between gritted teeth… And you won’t forget.

6. ‘The Crab Song’ from Introduce Yourself (1987)

Chuck Moseley wins no prizes for technical ability, but you can’t deny he left his personality all over the 1987 Introduce Yourself album. We didn’t know it at the time, but this record invented alternative metal, and Chuck is a big part of this innovation. Often operating between a post-punk bass voice, a crooning lisp, a moody punk aggression, and an unorthodox street rap, Chuck makes mistakes on this record. Yet most of them are forgivable for their naked honesty, abstract humour, and manic-depressive tendencies. Nowhere is this more evident than in ‘The Crab Song’, where his spoken word intro develops like a rehearsal of lines for a theatre performance and then evolves into a Terence Trent D’Arby-esque meditation. If we’re being kind, we might call his spazzy vocal gyrations in the heavier parts “inventive”, but the one moment of gold arrives in the sudden dropout from distorted to clean guitars at the end of the second chorus. Now you can hear the pain of an alcoholic with the conscience and maturity to blame only himself for his mistakes.

“You left me standing in the rain in incredible pain / I understand you have to be your own person/ And that’s ok with me.” These are wise words from a man who lived with demons all his life.

5. ‘Zombie Eaters’ from Live at the Brixton Academy (1990)

The test of a singer is whether they can transfer the studio magic to a live stage, and a twenty-year-old Mike Patton showed no fear when Faith No More transitioned from underground college rock darlings to international superstars overnight. A crowning live performance in London in 1990 captures the band on an invincible night, even if they had little enthusiasm for promoting Live at Brixton Academy after twelve months of press and touring for The Real Thing. Nevertheless, the connection between band and audience is electrifying, especially on ‘Zombie Eaters’, with its ethereal folk intro and bouncing thrash metal groove. Patton uses the delicate edge of his pipes to great effect throughout but unleashes a terrific death metal roar in the transition from clean to distortion drive as the band gear up for an outburst of aggression. Listen to the husk of Patton’s voice in the crunchy metallic sections and the declaration of “I’m a machine,” as Mike Bordin and Jim Martin wrench their instruments towards a calm release of tension at the end. It’s a moment when you’d like to say, “I was there.”

4. ‘Smaller and Smaller’ from Angel Dust (1992)

Mike Patton’s dissociative personality disorder on Angel Dust is worth your money alone, and that’s before you even analyse the playful avant-garde metal of the band’s 1992 masterpiece. This is also the one Faith No More album that strays into extreme metal territory with songs that would not be out of place on a Sepultura record. There are many contenders on this LP to show Patton’s demented scream vocals, but none reach the depths of depravity like ‘Smaller and Smaller’. Starting with a lingering baritone that circles around consistent vibrato notes, Patton is the melody in the grinding death metal dirge of the verse parts before he regurgitates an ear-piercing scream in the chorus. And this is not a normal scream – this is the sound of a person having their fingernails removed with pliers. You must remember that transgressive extreme metal vocals were not a celebrated artform in 1992, and they were not to be found on any album with a foot in the mainstream.

And, for the record, the sound of Tibetan monks chanting in the middle-eight section of this song is Mike Patton – not a sample.


3. ‘Digging the Grave’ from King for a Day… Fool for a Lifetime (1995)

Is King for a Day, Faith No More’s avant-garde hardcore album? Patton changed his voice yet again for this record, removing reverb from the heavier songs and going back to single tracking for the loud parts. ‘Digging the Grave’ is a perfect snapshot of his new adaptations with its gothic-tinged rock vocals in the verse, pleading melodic uplift in the bridge, and its wonderful release of harmonies in the chorus. Yet the seething aggression festers underneath all three styles before finding its climax in the radio-unfriendly torture screams in the middle-eight. You’d imagine that Patton recorded each part separately in the studio, but every live performance of this song suggests he could do them all in one take.

How he keeps his voice on the right side of tuneful is the most mesmerising aspect of this song. The way he jumps towards the higher end of a gruff octave for specific lyrics is even more impressive.

2. ‘The Real Thing’ from The Real Thing (1989)

Who remembers when Mike Patton’s nasal vocal style invited accusations of copying Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers? It’s true that there are mild similarities in tone, especially at the lower end of the register, but there’s one big difference – Mike Patton can sing, and Anthony Kiedis would struggle to win applause at a karaoke bar. Could Kiedis open up his lungs like the last line of each opening verse here, where Patton controls the dynamics of the instruments behind him like a conductor? Could he deliver a velvety Luther Vandross line such as, “You will leave me writhing on the floor-uh-oh-o-o-whoah,” as guitars, bass, and drums clatter around him? Listen how he goes from an agitated emotive rock voice to a muscular staccato punch in the metal parts. Then follow him as he finds his way back to a pensive soul meditation like his idol, Sade, in the quieter sections.

Mike Patton, the smooth operator, co-exists with the street punk and the stadium rock god in these eight minutes and fourteen seconds of glory. It might also be the most expressive rock performance of his career.

1. ‘Caffeine’ from Angel Dust (1992)

Did one song sow the seeds for an entire sub-genre of metal? There’s no doubt that Faith No More were five years ahead of their time for most of their career between 1985 to 1995, and you wonder if Korn and Deftones heard Patton’s hyperventilating vocals in ‘Caffeine’ and thought, “Ah, that’s interesting.” But the performance here is more than just a blueprint for nu metal. Patton’s invigorating and blood-thirsty diatribes in the opening verse juxtapose his counter melodies in the next part with an ambitious run through the harmonic minor scales. Everything about the approach here is confident and courageous – the salacious heavy breathing vocals during the bass guitar rumination; the ferocious high-pitched scream of “I’m fucking you,” in the head-banging thrash section; and the spontaneous emoting before the third rendition of the chorus. Some of these projections would be pompous if they were not so masculine in their intensity.

Many people will agree that Mike Patton is the greatest metal vocalist of all time. One listen to the “good cop/bad cop” technique here and on songs like ‘Midlife Crisis’ reminds you that nobody did this style before Angel Dust. As Devin Townsend said in 2011: “Angel Dust into Mr. Bungle changed every singer in heavy music.”

There’s no doubt that it inspired the next generation of metal singers for the rest of the 1990s and beyond.

Honourable mentions

‘Death March’ from Introduce Yourself (1987)

‘Edge of the World’ from The Real Thing (1989)

‘Jizzlobber’ from Angel Dust (1992)

‘Cuckoo for Caca’ from King for a Day… Fool for a Lifetime (1995)

‘She Loves Me Not’ from Album of the Year (1997)

‘Paths of Glory’ from Album of the Year (1997)

‘Superhero’ from Sol Invictus (2015)